Istanbul (1936-1951) / ‘Urban Archaeology’ as a Device to Reconstruct the Collective Memory of the Ancient Capital

Istanbul (1936-1951) / ‘Urban Archaeology’ as a Device to Reconstruct the Collective Memory of the Ancient Capital
Ruin of the Acropolis of the Ancient Byzantium

In the earlier entries, some of the conservation elements in Henri Prost’s master plan have been discussed on how to preserve some of the important monuments, mosques and townscape in the historical core of the city. In this narrative, I would like to further examine on how Prost utilizes the idea of “urban archaeology” as a means to conserve the memory of the city during Roman-Byzantine times.

 

Plan of the Park of Archaeology (1936-1947)
Plan of the Park of Archaeology (1936-1947)

Idea of ‘Urban Archaeology’

In Prost’s earlier proposal, he suggested to build ‘the Park of Archaeology’ on the eastern tip of the historic peninsula. The site coverage extended from the Blue Mosque on the south to the Hagia Sophia on the north and also covered the Byzantine maritime fortification on the east. Moreover, it also covered some historical monuments including the Acropolis of the Ancient Byzantium, the Hippodrome and the Imperial Palace of Constantine and his successors. On one hand, the park would be the site of major excavation revealing the historical treasure of the city; on the other hand, it also served as an open museum recalling the memory of the public of the fading image of the ancient capital.

 

Restoration of the Byzantine fortification
Restoration of the Byzantine fortification

Reconstructing the Collective Memory of the Ancient Capital

I think that Prost’s idea of ‘Urban Archaeology’ is highly successful and inspiring in terms of revealing layers of palimpsest and memory of the ancient city buried beneath Istanbul under the Ottoman monarchy. Adopting a vastly humane and sensitive approach, Prost attempted to reconstruct the collective memory of the city through the co-existence of monuments from both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. At the same time, the idea of open museum has a symbolic interpretation that the historical treasure and memory of Istanbul belongs to the entire humanity rather than owned solely by the nation or any religious body. The change of spatial hierarchy also reconciles with the idea of Populism in one of the Kemalism ideology as a return of political power and state of ownership to citizens.

 

Reference

F.Cana BIlSEL, Shaping a Modern City out of an Ancient Capital: Henri Prost’ plan for the historical peninsula of Istanbul

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